Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lecture Raises Questions about Ethical Use Of Psychological Techniques

Andrea Tone, Ph.D. receives APA's Rush
Award from former APA President Nada
Stotland, M.D.
Credit: Mark Moran
How does society form judgments about what “ethical” medical practice looks like? That’s the question that Andrea Tone, Ph.D., winner of this year’s Benjamin Rush Award at APA’s 2011 annual meeting, explored in a lecture titled “Spies and Lies: Cold War Psychiatry and the CIA.” She is Canada Research Chair in the Social History of Medicine at McGill University. Tone described her current research examining the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts during the Cold War—code named MKULTRA—to develop strategies for manipulating mental states and altering brain function. The effort involved experiments with surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals (including LSD), hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, and various forms of verbal or other abuse.

Tone focused especially on the work of American psychiatrist Ewen Cameron, M.D. As director of the Allan Memorial Institute (“the Allan”) in Montreal, Cameron received funding from front organizations of the CIA (one of which was named the “Society for Human Ecology”) to conduct experiments on unsuspecting Canadian citizens. Today, such experiments are widely condemned. But at the time, Cameron (whom Tone says was unaware of the fact that Society for Human Ecology was a front for the CIA) was one of the most highly regarded psychiatrists in North America.

So why he is condemned today when he was celebrated then? Tone argues that Cameron’s experiments fit well with social and cultural trends at the time, in a way that carries lessons for our own time. Those trends included the emerging belief that mental illness was entirely biological in nature and that psychopharmacology was the key to eradicating it, as well as the belief that treatment for mental illness needed to be made more efficient, rapid, and cost-efficient. For coverage of the annual meeting, see future editions of Psychiatric News.


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